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Today’s data markets require data that brings value

Today’s data markets require that there be valuable data to trade but the Federal Communications Commission doesn’t quite see it that way.  Last week the Commission voted to accept a report that concludes that 17% of the American population or approximately 55 million people, do not have access to advanced broadband.  The Commission’s determination is based on new speed standards based on the speeds that approximately 70% of broadband customers are purchasing today.

From my view of the world here in Atlanta I can’t say that the Commission has much of a case when it argues that there is no choice among competing broadband providers even when you take income into account.  Here in the West End where median income in the 30310 area code is approximately $24,606, we have seven wireline and wireless providers of internet access.  They are Comcast (100 Mbps to 1 Gbps); AT&T (10 Mbps to 25 Mbps); Verizon (10 Mbps to 25 Mbps); T-Mobile (10 Mbps to 25 Mbps); Platinum Equity (6 Mbps to 10 Mbps); Sprint Nextel (6 Mbps to 10 Mbps); and MetroPCS (768 kbps to 1.5 Mbps).

The 30331 area code has a median income of $36,349 and the same choices in internet access carriers, with the only difference being the decrease in speed provided by Platinum Equity (3Mbps to 6 Mbps).

Our more affluent neoghbors to the north in Buckhead enjoy median incomes of $65,642.  Sprint is not available as a service choice for the residents of Buckhead, but no worries.  Platinum Equity provides service speeds of 25 Mbps to 50 Mbps while Level 3 provides 1 Gbps speeds.

You can see these speeds yourself using a nifty broadband-by-zip code calculator provided by the National Broadband Plan Map.

Not to completely dis my neighborhood but the West End is not the epicenter of finance and industry.  While we have a couple grocery stores, a community and arts center, too many churches, a middle school, and a few banks, we are not generating the income that puts us on the list of high value data providers, not at an income of $24,606.  You find that action up in Buckhead.  There are enough banks, law firms, and high tech firms for you yto throw a cat at.  These are the sources of high value data.

Three of the Commission’s members would no doubt nake the argument that with higher speed broadband, the high value data economic activity I allude to would exist in the West End or even Camp Creek.  I would argue with them.  The SnapChats of the world are being bought and sold for billions while only having a staff no larger than the numerous fast food joints that pepper the West End.  These firms are not generating high value data that is made available for trade via data markets that consumers and producers access via broadband links.  The data comes from high income consumers who may not be necessarily employed in tech.

No. Raising speed standards out of sense of duty to equate everyone with everyone is not the approach our progressive friends on the Commission should be taken in order to promote broadband deployment.  Also, trying to preempt state law in order to encourage the deployment of municipal broadband is not the answer especially in neighborhoods like mine.  Half of us simply can’t afford broadband.

Links to the internet should grow organically with broadband providers meeting demand for their services when consumers signal they are ready to purchase them.  We will need to see a turnaround in economic development and incomes to see the broadband speed equality that progressives on the Commission desire.


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Georgia PSC five dollar fee for Lifeline impacts Georgia’s black citizens

There are a lot of “brothers and sisters” living here in Georgia, and the Georgia Public Service Commission rule imposing a five dollar monthly fee on recipients of free cell phones through the Lifeline program could have a disproportionate impact on blacks in Georgia, particularly as internet access and broadband adoption are concerned.

According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, 31.2% of Georgia’s residents are black, more than double the percentage of all Americans.  Nationwide, 80% of black adults use the internet, according to a report issued yesterday by the Pew Research Council.  This compares with 87% of white adults that travel the information superhighway.

The gap is wider when you compare broadband adoption at home between blacks and whites.  Sixty-two percent of black adults have broadband internet access at home versus 74% of white adults, according to Pew.

The picture levels somewhat when considering wireless access to broadband internet.  According to Pew’s findings, 92% of blacks and 90% of whites own cell phones.  Ironically in households where income is under $30,000, 90% of black adults own a cell phone while 82% of adult whites in these households own a cell phone.  Black adults edge out white adults in smart phone ownership, with 56% of black adults owning a smart phone compared to 53% of white adults.  In addition, 10% of black adults indicate that while they have no broadband connection at home, they connect to the internet via their smart phones.

According to data from the Kaiser Foundation, 35% of blacks nationwide live in poverty.  In Georgia, that percentage rate is 33%.  In its federal lawsuit seeking to overturn the Georgia PSC’s rule, the CTIA cited a position taking by the Federal Communications Commission on imposing a minimum fee on Georgia Lifeline recipients:

“The FCC found that a minimum charge could potentially discourage consumers from enrolling in the program and could result in current Lifeline subscribers leaving the program.”

If we assume a close relationship between national data on adoption of broadband and internet access by blacks with Georgia’s black residents, a minimum charge would have a negative impact on broadband adoption and continued internet access by blacks in Georgia.  This means reduced access to mobile wireless health services and employment opportunities for a significant portion of Georgia’s black population.

In an economy that is not yet fully employing its labor resources, reducing access to broadband by continuing to impose this fee would be devastating to blacks.

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Broadband and tuberculosis. The health benefits shouldn’t be ignored

Taking medication to address a health concern can be tedious and depressing.  I know first hand having been diagnosed as diabetic.  Those of us on insulin go through the daily routine of checking our blood sugar; administering our insulin; counting carbohydrates; and ensuring we get a sufficient amount of exercise in so that we can burn that excess sugar.

Monitoring all this is a pain in the ass.

I can only imagine what monitoring concerns tuberculosis patients have.  Although the disease is relatively rare today, thousands of Americans have it and have to undergo a time consuming and expensive regimen of monitoring adherence to drug prescription usage and dosage.  According to a piece written by Rose Stuckey Kirk, smartphone technology can be used to reduce the costs of implementing patient monitoring programs, thus facilitating the effectiveness of drugs used to combat the disease.

In her piece, Ms. Kirk describes how video directly observed therapy can be used to ensure patients are taking medication as described.  Using smartphone technology, a patient video records when they take their medication and submits the record to his doctor.  This approach to drug monitoring is now being used in San Diego, New York, San Francisco, and London.  I hope that the technology can be used in other cities here and around the world as well.

What concerns me however, is whether current public and regulatory policy is supporting this path to improving public health.  For example, in the Maryland General Assembly, the House will take up HB 48, a bill that prohibits certain telephone companies from replacing landline or wireline service with certain wireless telephone service, subject to certain exceptions.  The bill also prohibits the Maryland Public Service Commission from authorizing such replacements.  That bill is scheduled to be introduced on the House fllor on January 8.

In Georgia, the Georgia Public Service Commission adopted in  October 2013 a rule that would require low income Lifeline recipients of free cell phones to pay five dollars a month for their mobile service.  The rule, which is currently being challenged in federal court by CTIA, was implemented to address potential fraud in the Lifeline system.

These two actions could adversely impact efforts to adopt the broadband technology necessary for making the tuberculosis drug monitoring program more widespread for patients.  Prohibiting replacement of legacy networks with wireless networks means a wireless broadband network with less of the capacity needed to manage data traffic for drug monitoring and other mobile health services.

A five dollar fee on low income Lifeline recipients puts a subscriber in a position of deciding between accessing broadband data services or using funds for other items.

If people with health needs are to make the most of new technology; if our social policy is to ensure that all citizens are getting the best care available; and if our social goal is universal access to a broadband network that makes delivery of the technology and health services more effective, then public policy should reflect that.


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Putting a face on the Joint Center report

The Great Recession of 2007 was a bitch. Getting separated, then divorced while raising a son on my own between 2007 and 2009 only compounded matters. Having had my fill of western Maryland, I decided to head south to Atlanta for the warmer climate and to take advantage of being closer to family. As any parent will tell you, the more support you have, the less stress when it comes to child rearing. Little did I know that I was heading into a perfect economic storm in the ATL.

Finding work was next to impossible. It reminded me of a lyric from a popular song back in the Virgin Islands: “Time so hard, deh dawg an’ all a look wuk.” Translation: Times are so hard, even the dogs are looking for work. That was the Great Recession in a nutshell. I thought 2002 was bad for professionals, but that was mild compared to 2007.

Rather than mope around and ask, “Why me?”, I decided it would be a great opportunity to change careers. I was always interested in political writing and using my broadband connection made the foray into online media. Initially I picked up a gig writing for They literally paid pennies, but it was exciting to write about national politics, putting together fun content pictures and all. I looked forward to e-mailing what I wrote to friends and acquaintances, taking the opportunity to express myself and how I viewed the world.

Months later, a friend invited me to blog as part of an advocacy campaign. She was on my distribution list for the articles I wrote for so had first knowledge of what I could do. It was and continues to be a great opportunity.

Unlike most job seekers, I had no fear of the online world. I hadn’t physically submitted a resume to any potential employer since 2002, but today people are still getting used to the idea of having to electronically submit a job application. Take for example a job fair here in Atlanta that I covered back in 2011 for Job seekers, mostly Black American, stood in line for hours in front of the Atlanta Technical College hoping to see a recruiter. When people got inside to speak to companies, they were hit with a rude awakening: Employers don’t accept job applications in person anymore at job fairs. They quickly refer you to their websites in order to submit one.

For older job seekers especially, it was a surprise. Adding to the hardship must be the disproportionate amount of Black Americans whose only access to the Internet is via a smart phone. Smart phones are not designed for filling out job applications online or submitting resumes over the Internet.

The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies’ research has shed light on how important it is for today’s job seeker to have access to broadband. It is ironic that employers have erected the use of technology as a barrier to entry into today’s labor market and that hurdling those barriers also requires use of the same technology.

I do not share the Center’s press for some government policy to address the barrier. It is tempting to argue that there is a failure in the market for laptops or personal computers, but it is difficult to draw that conclusion where the consumer opts for a $600 smart phone and a $60 a month data plan. Have American consumers with no broadband and computer at home been kept out of the laptop/wired broadband-at-home market or have they chosen to stay out?

As the labor market continues to erect these technical barriers to employment, we will need more than government policies that promote literacy skills or call for more computers in a library. Wireless companies discontinuing subsidies of smart phones would be a start. Removing the subsidies will temporarily drive smart phone prices up and force consumers to consider a choice between a smartphone and data plan or a laptop and wired broadband service.

Until a change in consumer behavior induced by changes in pricing occurs, Black Americans will continue facing technology obstacles to job searches.

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HB 282 will not stifle economic growth

Posted February 25th, 2013 in Broadband, Facebook, Georgia, Google, net neutrality and tagged , , , , , , by Alton Drew

Last week a coalition, led by Google, wrote a letter to the chairman of the Georgia House Committee on Energy, Utilities, and Telecommunications urging him to not pass HB 282, the Municipal Broadband Investment Act. The bill, if passed, would require that municipal broadband networks serve only areas that are not being served by a private broadband provider. It also requires that the Georgia Public Service Commission (GPSC) make a determination as to whether an area is unserved and to draft rules that specify violations of the Act.

Seeing Google and the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA) is scary enough. These two have nothing on common other than they represent content providers who would rather not directly pay to have their content distributed over the Internet. Both have been pro net neutrality, NATOA more so, because they don’t want to see their content throttled.

Scarier yet is the lack of support for the assertions made in their letter to the committee chairman. Most glaring is their arguments about how the bill would hinder economic growth in Georgia. What’s hindering economic growth in Georgia isn’t the lack of broadband, although the job creation resulting from construction and deployment of broadband infrastructure wouldn’t hurt. What is really hurting growth in Georgia is the lack of a more diversified economic base compounded by a loss of manufacturing jobs. Also, Georgia is trying to get from under a foreclosure crisis exacerbated by high unemployment.

Even if broadband deployment were the panacea for our economic ills, HB 282 would direct deployment where its most needed; in the areas that are unserved and could probably get a boost from the type of industry where a broadband connection is key.

Google and NATOA should spend less time playing carpetbagger and get to know the state before making unwarranted assertions about economic growth. That phrase has been bandied about to the point where it’s staring to lose value.

If Google and NATOA are so concerned about expanding broadband, they should support legislation that calls for an universal service assessment on cost causers like Amazon, Facebook, and Google, requiring that they pay a percentage of income made from advertisements and/or online retail. That would go long way toward getting the unserved online, whether they reside in an area serviced by multiple broadband providers or none.